Dáil Éireann - Volume 569 - 24 June, 2003

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Payments.

  427. Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the alternative arrangements which have been put in place for pensioners and other claimants who used a now closed post office (details supplied) in Dublin 8. [17678/03]

  Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): It is standard practice on the closure of any post offices for the social welfare customers concerned to be offered a choice of alternative payment venues. In the case mentioned by the Deputy, customers were offered two alternative post offices within a one mile radius of the closed office. If these arrangements do not suit a customer, an alternative method of payment, either by cheque or by direct payment into a bank account, can be made available.

  428. Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the severe financial hardship caused to many students as a result of the cutbacks in the back to education allowance scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17697/03]

  Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): The back to education allowance is a second chance education opportunities scheme designed to help the unemployed and other groups to improve their qualifications and to [640] enhance their employment prospects. A review of the basic purpose underlying my Department's back to education provisions has been carried out. In light of this, and in view of the expenditure constraints facing us this year, the scheme has been revised.

  In framing proposals to change elements of the BTEA scheme my concern was to ensure that resources should be focused where the need is greatest. In line with this, payments under the scheme for the summer period have been discontinued for BTEA participants who were in receipt of an unemployment payment as many students find seasonal work at home or abroad during the summer months. Participants in the scheme who fail to find employment during the summer may be entitled to an unemployment payment, subject to satisfying the usual qualifying conditions. All other participants on the scheme, lone parents and people with disabilities, remain unaffected by this decision and will retain payment during the summer period.

  The BTEA scheme was revised in respect of people who wish to pursue certain full-time postgraduate courses and consequently, these now no longer qualify for BTEA purposes. All the people concerned are already in possession of a third level qualification and I am satisfied that they have already achieved a good level of academic attainment, which should impact positively on their employment prospects. However, those wishing to take up a higher diploma, H.Dip, in all disciplines or graduate diploma in primary school teaching will not be affected by these changes.

  In a time of financial constraint, I want to ensure that supports are directed at those with the most pressing needs. I am satisfied that the new arrangements will ensure that the back to education scheme continues to provide support to those people who are most in need and who are most distant from the labour market.

  Question No. 429 answered with Question No. 426.